Donald Trump's administration has approved US$1.3 billion worth of arms sales to Taiwan, a U.S. government official said Thursday.

Statement from Taiwan Presidential Office spokesperson:

We welcome the congressional notification today of a new arms sales package for Taiwan. We also thank the U.S. government for its continued commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances.

The provision of defensive systems help strengthen Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities. This increases Taiwan’s confidence and ability to maintain the status quo of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

On this basis, we will continue to seek constructive dialogue with Beijing, and promote positive developments in cross-Strait relations. We believe that such efforts will be welcomed by the international community.

At the same time, we will continue to increase our defense investments, including in indigenous defense industries and defense-related research, in order to demonstrate our commitment to Taiwan’s self-defense.

The U.S. official emphasized that there is "no change to our longstanding 'One China' policy" — stating that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of it — which Beijing says is a prerequisite for maintaining relations.

The announcement of the sale comes at a sensitive moment for the U.S. and China, as President Trump is working to establish a partnership over trade differences and efforts to curb North Korea's nuclear program.

The Trump administration has formally notified Congress of the defense sales comprised of seven parts, the official said, which are "based on an assessment of Taiwan's defense needs" and include upgrading defense systems from analog to digital.

The plans are consistent with terms of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the official said, under which Washington keeps trade ties and sells Taipei weapons to "maintain a sufficient self-defense capability."

U.S. legislation, designed to provide democratic Taiwan with enough military clout to defend itself against China's vastly superior armed forces, requires Washington to sell high-end weaponry to Taipei.

The last U.S. arms sale to Taiwan was in December 2015.

Just after winning the election, Trump infuriated Beijing by accepting a congratulatory call from Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), but once in office the president unequivocally endorsed the "One China" policy during a visit by Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平).

While Washington cut off formal diplomatic ties with Taipei, it has never made a clear statement about Taiwan's sovereignty, and the island enjoys many of the trappings of diplomatic relations with the U.S.

Barriers to sales?

There was a commonly-held perception that the U.S. has been restricting sales of weapons to Taiwan in recent years.

However, William Stanton, Director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) from 2009 to 2012, argued last year the barrier to more weapons sales from the U.S. had been Taiwan’s budget constraints, rather than unwillingness on the part of Washington.

“During the three years I was at AIT, we did two major arms deals – worth over US$13 billion – which actually exceeded any previous single administration,” he told ICRT in November 2016, adding there had since been another sale valued at US$1.83 billion.

“One of the biggest problems has been that Taiwan hasn’t had the budget” and Taiwan was still trying to “absorb” the weapons bought in earlier purchases, he said.

Stanton also suggested that a “huge part” of the military cooperation between the two countries is via training in Taiwan and the U.S., and is mostly “unseen.”

The U.S. has “remarkably large” numbers of military advisers and officers helping the Taiwan military, he said.


Additional reporting: The News Lens